From The Sunday Times : Seville struts its stuff

Spain’s third city has had a stylish makeover — and can give Barcelona a run for its money for cool bars and restaurants.

It used to be simple whent came to Spain’s big three. For style, you’d choose Barcelona; for culture, Madrid. Seville, meanwhile, was the place for romance.Beautiful, but not as sleek as Barcelona, romantic, but not exactly sexy, Seville was, perhaps, the Spanish equivalent of Bath: undeniably lovely but, with its polka dots and bull-fighting, erring on the twee.

I say “was” because, in the past year or two, Seville has undergone something of a makeover. Look up as you leave the cathedral and you’ll see people sinking mojitos by a rooftop pool. Gaze across the Guadalquivir River from Santa Cruz and there’s a mesmerising glass building that could have been transplanted straight from Barcelona. The new Seville has everything it used to have — the architecture, the tradition, the vibe — but now it’s topped with a layer of cool.

With two visits under my belt, I thought I knew the place. I’d trundled round the perma-cutesy alleyways of Santa Cruz, watched tabletop flamenco in Triana, shovelled my way through platefuls of patatas bravas in the Macarena. When I came back this winter, though, it was as if I’d stumbled on a different city.

Perhaps the biggest change is in the food. Instead of fumbling through a tapas menu, I found myself, on day one, eating a full three-course meal. At Al Aljibe (Alameda de Hercules 76; 00 34-954 900591, alaljibe.com; mains from £11), instead of manchego, there was stuffed squid, and mushroom and coconut tartare. The menu blended Andalusian and international cuisine, and the closest we came to tapas were the amuse-bouches.

June saw the opening of another fashion-forward institution: Abades Triana (Betis 69A; 958 327200, abadestriana.com; mains from £19), a bar and restaurant on the river bank opposite the Moorish Torre del Oro. Here, the all-glass building that sits flush on the bank and looks like a ship is as much the attraction as the food — exotic dishes such as duck teriyaki with pistachio and aubergine.

New Seville goes deeper than food, though. It’s in a brand of flamenco that has swapped roses in the teeth for thundersome performances more akin to the onset of a bacchanalia — drop in on a class at the Manuel Betanzos Flamenco School, in Triana (Rodrigo de Triana 30; 954 340519, manuelbetanzos.com) to see what I’m talking about. It’s in the Aire de Sevilla (Aire 15; 955 010025, airedesevilla.com), transformed from an old Arabic bathhouse into a sexy DIY spa. And it culminates on a high.

Rooftop pools are nothing new, of course — the one at the Hotel Doña Maria has been popular for decades. In the past, however, they have been functional: viewing platforms and slightly tired pools in which to seek refuge from the sun.

Seville’s new pool scene, however, owes more to Los Angeles than to the Doña Maria. The rooftops are attractions in their own right; the pools are places to lounge, not swim. The roof of the Casa Romana hotel, near Alameda de Hercules (Calle Trajano 15; 954 915170, hotelcasaromana.com) has a sun deck, a plunge pool and staff proffering bubbly. Even the dingy Espacio Azahar (Calle Jesus del Gran Poder 28; 954 384109, http://www.espacioazahar.com) has a terrace bar and hot tub.

Leading the watery revolution, though, is the EME Fusion Hotel (Calle Alemanes 27; 954 560000, emehotel.com). Its split-level rooftop comprises a bar, a restaurant and a pool area, all so close to the cathedral that even in the dark, you can see owls circling the rose window and read the Latin inscriptions on the Giralda bell tower. Everything about the terrace — the chillout music, the unisex lavatories and the sun loungers exhorting you to “be fabulous” — screams cool, yet it is oddly unintimidating.

Of course, old Seville is still there under the makeover. Horse-drawn carriages line up outside the EME; the ceramics shops of Calle Alfareria are along the river. It’s just that, like Olivia Newton-John at the end of Grease, she’s sharpened up her act.

Travel details: fly to Seville with Ryanair (0871 246 0000, ryanair.com), from Stansted, or Vueling (vueling.com), from Heathrow. Stay at the EME Fusion Hotel, which has doubles from £132 (see above); or at the Casa Romana, where doubles start at £79 (see above).

From The Sunday Times
Julia Buckley
February 14, 2010

Seville struts its stuff

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